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Music Interview Experience - Part 1

As a music applicant, I found that there really weren’t that many resources to help me with the whole interview process. I could find an abundance of help and advice for Medics, Engineers, English-ers and so forth, but when it came to music, there just didn’t seem to be that much. All I had to work from was a vague email from the college who would be interviewing me saying that I’d have to analyse a score and read an article. I therefore had no idea what to expect in the car on the way to Oxford for my 4-night stay, and consequently I was rather nervous. Scratch that, extremely nervous.

For music, you will definitely get at least two interviews at two different colleges, and very possibly a third interview. From what I could gather around the breakfast table each morning, this is different to most subjects which will only get interviewed by one college, so consider yourself lucky! This ended up being very fortunate for me, as I didn’t end up getting an offer from the college I stayed at, but instead from the college where I had my second interview.

For both of my interviews, I had time before to read a brief article and quickly analyse an unseen score. The amount of time you will get will vary between colleges; for me I had 15 minutes at my first interview then a whole 40 minutes at my second interview! In this time, you will be expected to glean as much information as you can from the article, and you will be expected to respond to the points made in an educated manner, even if it is a topic with which you aren’t very familiar. I was asked questions like ‘From whose perspective is this article written – what effect does this have?’ and ‘When do you think this article was written?’, but you’ll almost certainly be asked to broadly summarise the main arguments raised as well. To me, it felt a little more like a test of my English comprehension than anything, but as this is such an essay-heavy course, these are crucial skills they are looking for!

I would advise reading a wide variety of scholarly works on a range of topics before your interview just to get you used to it – the less you know about what you’re reading about the better. Practise formulating a response to the articles and try and explain the article to someone who hasn’t read it - this will make it so much easier for you.

The unseen scores could really be anything but I would be surprised if it were too complex or obscure. For me, I got extracts from Schubert’s ‘Death and the Maiden’ Quartet and the song and poem upon which it is based. I was asked to draw comparisons between both extracts, specifically to do with their structures and how they reflect the meaning of the poem. One particularly daunting moment was when my interviewer kept asking me the same question - ‘But is there anything in the music that suggests a Romantic relationship between Death and the Maiden?’ - about four times in a row, providing less and less convincing answers each time. If something like this happens to you, the best thing to do is to stay calm and know that they’re only trying to get as much as possible out of you; you’re probably not being stupid!

In my second interview I was given a solo piano piece by Mendelssohn and basically asked to analyse it harmonically. They explained some uncommon musical terms to me and then asked me how they apply to the extract, so this is impossible to revise for. They are deliberately going to throw things at you that you won’t know, so the best thing you can do is to just practice looking at a few scores and quickly analysing them from a harmonic perspective, and also from a more abstract, metaphorical perspective (e.g. does that Neapolitan inflection represent mankind’s struggle to come to terms with its own mortality? Eh, probably.). The more varied the scores you look at the better, as they could throw anything at you!

More to come on Jonty's Music Interview later in the week!

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